NFL OTA Roundup: Where's Dez Bryant, and Can David Johnson Reach His Goal?
With OTAs ramping up around the NFL, there's plenty of news about the 2018 rookie class. In Cleveland, No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield will begin his career under an even bigger spotlight than originally expected. The player drafted just after him (New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley) has made it clear he's not interested in breaking records in 2018.
There's more buzz about a number of veterans, including injury updates on players like Richard Sherman and Ryan Tannehill as well as a lofty goal for Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson.
The dominant storyline, though, continues to be a player still looking for work. In eight NFL seasons, Dez Bryant has topped 1,000 receiving yards three times. He caught 10 or more touchdown passes three times and has averaged over nine a season. Bryant has been to three Pro Bowls and was a first-team All-Pro in 2014.
But after balking at an offer from the Baltimore Ravens, the 29-year-old is still searching for a team.
We'll begin with the latest on No. 88 as we take a look at the most recent news and notes with OTAs underway.
The Latest on the Saga of the Wandering Dez
Despite the fact that wide receiver Dez Bryant has been without a team since the Dallas Cowboys released him in mid-April, he said online that he doesn't regret turning down a multiyear contract offer from the Ravens.
"Nope not one bit and very appreciative for the offer," Bryant tweeted. "What's crazy is how reports like this will try to tarnish someone's character.. the slight jab saying it's not easy to get along with. I thought the media would give up by now with betraying me as something that I'm not."
Bryant didn't specify the jab, but there have been rumbles that his reputation and attitude may have cooled some teams' interest.
He has at least one person trying to find him work who isn't his agent. Newly minted Monday Night Football analyst (and former teammate) Jason Witten told ESPN's Adam Schefter on a podcast that the Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints would be good fits.
"I think Dez is certainly going to have some great opportunities," Witten said. "He's motivated, and I think he's going to end up going to the Green Bay Packers. I think that's a great spot for him."
However, after Witten's comments surfaced, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com said that while the Packers have considered Bryant, "nothing is imminent." The Saints' level of interest in unknown, although at this point, it's worth pointing out the team didn't refute Witten's speculation.
Someone's going to eventually take a flier on the wide receiver. There are too many teams in need at the position, and even if Bryant's not the player he once was, an incentive-laden contract carries little risk.
But this saga doesn't appear close to over yet.
David Johnson Has Big Plans for 2018
In 2016, Arizona Cardinals tailback David Johnson topped 2,000 yards from scrimmage and scored 20 touchdowns in a breakout performance. Last year, the only thing that broke was Johnson's wrist—in the first game of the season.
To say that Johnson has big plans for his return is an understatement.
While appearing on NFL Network's Good Morning Football recently, Johnson said he set his sights on a select club in 2018.
"My goal is still 1,000 [yards] rushing and 1,000 receiving," he said.
The 26-year-old is attempting to join Roger Craig of the San Francisco 49ers (1985) and Marshall Faulk of the then-St. Louis Rams (1999) as the only tailbacks in NFL history to have at least 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving in the same season. He came up just short in 2016, rushing for 1,239 yards and adding 879 more on 80 catches.
New Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks has been impressed by what he's seen from Johnson so far.
"He looked outstanding today," Wilks told reporters Tuesday after the first OTA. "It's good to have him back out there. Just flying around and the things that he's doing right now is pretty exciting."
To be fair, the tailback doesn't have especially good odds of meeting his goal. An awful lot of things will have to go right, including the health of both Johnson and the majority of the offensive linemen in front of him.
But it's not like Johnson tore an ACL or popped his Achilles. He didn't suffer an injury that will negatively impact his speed or agility. And by breaking his wrist on the first weekend of last season, he inadvertently gave himself the maximum amount of time to recover before taking the field in a game that counts.
Baker Mayfield, Browns to Star on HBO's 'Hard Knocks'
After the Cleveland Browns had just the second 0-16 season in NFL history, a strong argument could be made that they were a sideshow. You could make an equally compelling argument that a bunch of distractions is the last thing the Browns need as they try to dig themselves out of the AFC North basement.
Like, say, dozens of television cameras.
So, of course, the team is going to be appearing on the 2018 version of HBO's Hard Knocks.
Earlier this month, Browns general manager John Dorsey told ESPN 850 Radio in Cleveland that he had reservations about being in the TV fishbowl.
"I don't think there's anything good that comes out of Hard Knocks, but we'll see," he said, via Nancy Armour of USA Today.
If recent history is any indication, Dorsey may be on to something. In the last five years, teams that appeared on the show have a combined record of 35-45. Only one of those squads won 10 or more games: the Cincinnati Bengals in 2013.
At the NFLPA Rookie Premiere in Los Angeles, Mayfield told SiriusXM Radio (via Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com) that he thinks appearing on the series could be a good thing:
"For me looking at it, and us as a team, I'd say it can be good if you handle it right. If you think about it as a way to get on camera and try to show off and do certain things and handle it the wrong way, then that can be very negative, it can be a distraction. But if you use it as a sense of, 'OK, I got to block out everything else and just focus on playing ball,' then that can be a great thing for us."
That glass-half-full attitude would be a lot easier to swallow if Mayfield didn't have a history of courting controversy.
Being under the brightest of spotlights isn't going to be easy.
And that spotlight is only going to help cement opinions on Mayfield (for better or worse) before he ever takes a snap that counts in the NFL.
Saquon Barkley More Interested in Rings Than Trophies
Barkley won't be making any HBO appearances, but the former Penn State star is drawing plenty of attention in the Big Apple.
And while more than a few pundits believe Barkley will take the NFL by storm in 2018, the 6'0", 233-pounder has made it clear he's more interested in team success than individual accolades.
While Barkley was in Los Angeles for the NFLPA Rookie Premiere, TMZ Sports asked him about Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson's recent comments about how he hopes Barkley doesn't break his rookie rushing record from 1983.
"I don't care for that," Barkley said about the record. "I wanna win championships."
Barkley took the same route—team first, player second—while talking with Matt Lombardo of NJ Advance Media on Thursday:
"Obviously, I'm the first-round running back and a lot of people are talking about me, but Jonathan Stewart has been in the league for a very long time, you have Wayne Gallman who's a young guy, but he's very talented. We have a great room. This whole team is in a really great spot. The vibe and the feeling of the locker room. You can see the tradition that you have to live up to."
Granted, Barkley's grounded attitude isn't going to help him break tackles. But it's just the latest example of why so many people are high on his prospects in the pros. In addition to his imposing blend of speed (4.4 40-yard dash), agility and power, his mental approach is one coaching staffs dream of.
Malik Hooker Is Back on the Practice Field
In April, Indianapolis Colts safety Malik Hooker told reporters he was doing everything in his power to accelerate his rehab from a torn ACL suffered last October.
"Right now, it's just crucial for me to get in there and just try to work as hard as I can to get healthy for the team," Hooker said. "So, I just pretty much just do whatever's asked of me and try to do a little extra so that if I can, try to move the process up."
The 22-year-old safety has continued to progress.
As Andrew Walker of the team's official website noted, Hooker posted a video Tuesday of himself working out and cutting on the turf at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center. It's the first time we've seen the 15th overall pick in the 2017 draft in cleats since that fateful Week 7 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
At the time of his injury, Hooker had been playing as advertised. The ball-hawking safety had snagged three interceptions in his first seven games and was an early front-runner for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.
There is not a definitive timetable for Hooker's return to game action, and one video snippet of the youngster doesn't change that.
Seeing Hooker backpedaling and making cuts on the field with ease, however, is good news for a defense that badly needs its best playmaker in the secondary if Indy is going to improve on its 30th-ranked defense from last season.
John Ross Is Feeling Good
While Hooker's first NFL season ended in a disappointing fashion, wide receiver John Ross' was much more consistent.
Consistently bad. Awful, even.
Ross, who was selected ninth overall by the Cincinnati Bengals, played in just three games. The Bengals placed him on season-ending reserve in December with a shoulder injury. And head coach Marvin Lewis called him out for his play in November, telling reporters Ross "let his teammates down" after he came up short on a route.
Ross touched the ball once as a rookie—a 12-yard carry. He had no catches. Not one.
Per Geoff Hobson of the team's official website, Ross acknowledged that his rookie season was a mess:
"Last year I let everything get to me. I let my injury get to me. I was trying to do more than I could. I was out of shape. I'm not trying to make excuses, but it's real-life things. You can't just come in the NFL and be that guy. You have to come in and prepare. I've learned that. It's growth and progression from here on."
Ross also said he's 100 percent healthy and looking to bounce back.
"I couldn't ask to feel any better than I do now," Ross said. "It's the best I've felt since I went into my last year of college."
Quarterback Andy Dalton told Hobson he's seen a difference: "He looks good. Completely different than he did last year. You can tell he worked hard. It looks like he's getting back to where he was. He looks smooth. Everyone knew he was fast, but he's not just a straight-line guy. He can stop and go. He's got some shiftiness to him."
Hopefully, that improvement will carry through to training camp and the preseason—possibly enough so that Lewis says something nice about the 23-year-old speedster who set the combine 40 record at 4.22 a year ago.
Ryan Tannehill Expected to Be on the Field for OTAs
The Miami Dolphins will begin OTAs on Tuesday and have their final session from June 11-14. Fans will be watching one player above all others when the team takes the practice field.
No, it isn't first-round rookie safety Minkah Fitzpatrick—although plenty of eyes will be on him as well.
Per Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, quarterback Ryan Tannehill—who missed the last three games of the 2016 regular season with a partially torn ACL and then all of 2017 after completely tearing it in practice last August—will be participating in workouts. Luckily for the Dolphins, it looks like he will be practicing without many (if any) limitations.
Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said the team is formulating a plan for Tannehill, although he's optimistic that he is in for a big year:
"We're in the process of putting together a good plan for him coming up with OTAs. What I've been able to see from him is that he's a good thrower that can make all of the throws. ... There's not a throw he can't make, and we're just in the process of cleaning up the communication things. There's some fundamental stuff that we're working hard on. As far as throwing, I haven't seen any limitations in anything."
Tannehill, who turns 30 in July, better have a big season. After the team restructured his contract in March, there was no chance he was going anywhere right away, but the Dolphins could shave over $13 million off the salary cap by releasing him in 2019 and over $19 million in 2020.
There was ample speculation before the 2018 draft that Miami might take a quarterback early. While it didn't, there's little dispute this is a make-or-break season for the seventh-year veteran.
Richard Sherman Plans to Be Ready for Training Camp
Next, we'll look at a player who won't be participating in OTAs fully.
Richard Sherman was undoubtedly the crown jewel of the San Francisco 49ers' free-agent signings. But fans haven't had a chance to see him in action yet, as the 30-year-old continues to rehab the Achilles tear he suffered last November with the Seahawks.
On Thursday, he told ESPN's Josina Anderson that he was able to jog on the field and that his Achilles feels good.
"I'll be ready for training camp [in July]," he said, "but [the team] is going to be overly cautious either way."
That cautiousness likely means Sherman will begin training camp on the physically unable to perform list. It's a procedural move—if he starts camp on the PUP, he can come off at any time, but the 49ers can't put him there after training camp gets underway.
Given the severity of Sherman's injury and when it happened, late July is about the best-case scenario for him to get back on the field. Even a Week 1 return isn't a sure bet, although reports regarding his recovery have been positive.
The 49ers have playoff aspirations after last year's red-hot finish with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, but the long game is the smart play here. Take it slowly with Sherman's rehab and let him learn the new defense in the hopes he can get into football shape before the games start to count.
It would be nice if he played a full complement of snaps against the Minnesota Vikings on Sept. 9 in Week 1. But having him on the field for what could be a pair of must-win December matchups against the NFC West rival Seahawks would be better.
Browns Trade CB Jamar Taylor to Cardinals
There was more Browns news late in the week. No team in the NFL has been more aggressive in turning over the roster this offseason than Cleveland, and the overhaul concluded Friday.
As ESPN reported, the Browns shipped cornerback Jamar Taylor to the Arizona Cardinals for a sixth-round pick in the 2020 draft. The sixth-year veteran, a former second-round pick by the Miami Dolphins, was acquired by Cleveland in a draft-day deal in 2016.
Taylor started 29 games in two years and recorded a career-high 62 stops in 2017, but he also failed to intercept a pass. After signing several veteran corners in free agency and drafting Denzel Ward fourth overall, it was plainly evident Taylor's days in northern Ohio were numbered.
The Cardinals, on the other hand, have been searching for a reliable starter opposite Patrick Peterson for years—a search that continues in 2018. Taylor's no superstar, but for very little draft capital, the Redbirds were able to land an experienced veteran who will compete with the likes of Brandon Williams and Bene Benwikere to start.
An imposing list that ain't.
It's a trade that isn't setting off any seismographs, but the deal made sense for both teams.